Tag Archives: Dublin

Spotty memories seen in reverse

Greg

Writer & poet Greg Kirkorian, member of the Irish Writers’ Centre

At the lonely start, I wobbled into the Irish Writers’ Centre in search of heat, feeling like the run off of a stream and hoping someone had some answers for me. The answers remained elusive, but a cup of tea was welcome and I remember thinking the tall girl who welcomed me had a cut of wit hidden behind her kindness. I decided to stay a while and paid my pittance for a seat in the warmth and the chance to pester the centre’s beleaguered staff.I had no idea I would spend my whole time in Dublin there: haunting the rooms and insinuating myself in conversations, meeting my best friends, glowering at fellow Americans. I was the worst kind of houseguest. Reeking of fish for eight months, I still had a place to warm my cockles and scandalise the locals. I played the boor every chance given, berating Irish ears with unwelcome words of late night scandals and dreams of Arcadia.

I spent the first month living in a hostel leaning over the Liffey. The environment was dizzying with a high paced flow of guests, so I leaned on the front house staff for a bit of stability. Typical of Dublin, I had no problem finding the comfort of a friendly ear.

Also typical of Dublin, I had no problem finding junkies. Downing vending machine brews and too many bags of Tayto salt and vinegar chips, I enjoyed many dawns walking along the brown of the river in a half-drunk cloud taking it all in. It seemed surreal that you could buy a ticket on a whim and find yourself in a different life. Eventually some weekend hooligan high as a kite off an MDMA/cocaine cocktail would wake me with a shriek, shake my bunk like a gorilla in heat, and accidentally kick me in the stomach while clambering up to the bed above me. I figured it was time to leave.

thebeardnardshaw_gallery2The rest of the time I spent in a swirl: boozing at the Bernard Shaw, Ear Inn and by the canal; bantering through half hour drives to eight-hour gay hikes; hobnobbing with the judiciary at a judge’s soiree; biking with my best friend to Howth for the day. Working a job at Ulster Bank call centre, listening to the cancer, the rancor, the madness and mindless jabber until my insides curdled. Watching so many open mics and so many concerts, which featured overwhelming highs and disastrous lows.

Fondness washes against my insides when I think back. My friends feel too far away and I miss the warped curve around Trinity. I miss Dame street, her clusters of teens, tourists and addicts mixing under the Central Bank, and Georges’ Street, salacious as it was perpendicularly fused to Dame at the crotch. I miss days in Stephen’s Green playing young again with delirium dreams of poetic grandeur floating freely with the pollen. I even miss Grafton Street’s fire spinner guy… complaining about how ridiculous and terrible he was made me feel like a true Irishman.

Wandering back through my memory, I land again and again in the Irish Writers’ Centre. There my experience started and there’s where I made those friends. There when the sun was up (never) or when things were gloomy (always). There where my most potent memory of Dublin resides with muted light filtering through windows overlooking the Garden of Remembrance, where the people turn into geese and fly.

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Filed under Creative Writing, Irish Writers Centre, Membership of Irish Writers' Centre, writing, writing groups

Angela’s Cash is…

pocket-homo-sapiens…back in Ireland. Well, some of it, anyway. A few weeks before my trip to Dublin, I received word that I was slated to receive a grant from the German Science Foundation to study the impact of Homo sapiens on the decline of the Neanderthals in Spain’s Basque Country.

I have to say, disbursement of public German funds to an American for this type of work seemed quite illogical, given the sorry financial condition of so many European countries. Recent advances in DNA testing have proved that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals interbred far more than we civilised humans might care to acknowledge, but lavish government spending on this type of useless research is precisely the kind of waste Germany seems intent on rooting out elsewhere in Europe. Why on earth would they pay me for this? I’ve cohabitated with a Basque Neanderthal man for 25 years and I would have been happy to tell Angie everything she wanted to know. For free.

neanderthalFirst off, if there’s anywhere Home Sapiens were hula hooping with the Neanderthals late in the game, it’s the Basque Country. Just look at the Basques: They lift boulders for sport. They brag about their direct lineage to Cro-Magnon man. And on our first date, my husband grabbed me by the hair and dragged me behind a stone wall. Our interspecies relationship has been a challenge over the years, but we at least had the benefit of marriage counseling. Way back when, disputes were resolved with a clubbing to the head. Which pretty much sums up why the mixed relationships, and hence, the Neanderthals, were doomed.

Alas, German disbursement was too efficient and once that cash was in my pocket—even if it did arrive via our small rental flat in Spain via a German archeology PhD student—I decided it had to be redistributed back to the country most in need. It was a close call among the various contenders, but according to the New York Times: Ireland is still grappling with high unemployment. Domestic consumer spending has been slow to pick up. And the government remains burdened with the staggering debt that it took on to recapitalize the country’s banks.

So, my friends, that is why Angela’s cash is coming back to Ireland.

Here’s a little breakdown of where her eiremarks went. I think she would be pleased.

A lovely housing estate in Sligo. I bought it sight-unseen at a fabulous price and boy, are my friends in America going to be jealous when I tell them I have an officially haunted Irish mansion. Although I’m not sure why there are no windows. Or doors. Or walls. I’m assuming that the construction equipment is there to finish it up. Like the developer promised me.

Twenty gorgeous photographs from an industrious flea market photographer who assured me that he would report the cash and the income to the government so as to not receive any more dodgy unemployment benefits, and, to contribute his share of the tax levy. Now, just as soon as I get those walls up in my estate, I’ll have something to hang on them.

A gluten-free, dairy-free, horsemeat-free dinner for a couple with infant twins. Making babies in Ireland, as evidenced by the country’s historically low birth rate, is obviously very hard work. So why not support the endeavors of these lovely people who had managed to make two, all in one go, without any help from the state. As I said, Angie would be pleased. See how very hard working the Irish have become? No wonder she was so eager to help Ireland exit the bailout. (Nota bene to the Irish: the Germans took 92 years to pay off their global debt so please, stop fretting about your 30 year term. Your mistake wasn’t nearly as bad as theirs).

Museum1

The Irish Jewish museum. Surprise! My family is invited to The Gathering. July, 2013. I doubt we’d be tracing our direct DNA here but hey—guess what: You really can be Jewish and Irish. In fact, over the years I’ve noticed the Irish and the Jews actually have a few things in common, and I’m not just talking about the monopoly on guilt or the occasionally near-debilitating inferiority and persecution complexes. Both groups also lay claim to having invented the phrase “beyond the pale” and to one Mr. J.C. from Nazareth, since the records show he lived at home with his mother until he was 30.  Near where I live is a deli/pub called The Star and the Shamrock—and go on—I dare you to come up with a better way to celebrate these two besieged cultures than with Jewish food and Irish drink. German reparations officially ended in 2010, but I couldn’t resist feeding a wee bit more German cash into this institution. It really is a lovely little place; evocative black and white immigration photos, a beautifully preserved 19th century synagogue on the top floor, and, my favorite, favorite newspaper headline ever:

Nazi group quits Ireland as it’s not quite fascist enough!

Unlike the rest of this post, that’s the only thing I’m not embellishing.

Honestly, how can you not admire a country that simply can’t be arsed to be viciously mean?

airport busOnce, when I was waiting for the airport bus—despite the fact that it had stopped at this very spot every other morning­—the monitor indicated no airport buses were arriving in the next 45 minutes. And I had a flight to catch. When I asked the driver of another line if he knew where the #16 bus might be, he told me to hop on so he could run me into town so I could grab another bus. We then had the obligatory where are you from where have you been here’s where I’ve been in the States conversation, all while he greeted each embarking and disembarking passenger with a remarkable display of good cheer and familiarity. All in the frigid 6:30 morning darkness.

I could go on in a cheesy way about the infectious kindness of people here, the friendliness of the Irish, the willingness to step out to help a stranger, but you all know all of that. That goodwill is generally valued over efficiency. That a one hour meet will stretch out into seven if the situation calls for it. That people here focus more on enriching souls than their own pocketbooks, in a multitude of ways.

So Angie don’t you weep, you’ll have your balanced balance sheet.

Ireland may never be the economic powerhouse that Germany is, but the good people of Ireland are working.

Just not the way the Germans do.

And for that, we can be grateful.

Diana FriedmanHUGE THANKS to Diana Friedman who took the time to write four fantastic blogs for us in recent weeks after landing at the Centre last summer! It was a delight to meet and get to know her. We’re also delighted to learn that she has just been selected as Artist-in Residence for the Spring Catoctin Mountain Artist-in-Residence program and will be giving a free writing workshop at the Urbana Library in Frederick, MD as part a fabulous afternoon  of art making if you’re in the US of A neighbourhood! Diana’s work has received several awards, including being selected as a finalist for the Howard Frank Mosher Fiction Prize, a top 25 pick for Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Contest, third place in Bethesda Magazine’s Annual Short Story Competition, and as a finalist in Sport Literate’s essay contest. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in various publications, including Sport Literate, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, Whole Earth Review, the Baltimore Sun, Newsweek, Bethesda Magazine, Stone Highway Review and the Legendary, among others. An excerpt of her novel will be published in a forthcoming anthology of Washington, D.C. writers, Defying Gravity, available from Paycock Press in 2013.  www.dianafriedmanwriter.com and to keep up with her newest writings or hang out with her in cyberspace, you can *like* her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DianaFriedmanwriter or follow her on Twitter @Dfriedmanwriter

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Filed under Creative Writing, Feature Writing, Guest Blogger, Irish Writers Centre, new writing, writing

ON WRITING FICTION – SETTING AS FLOUR

Writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir is guest blogging at the Irish Writers’ Centre Blog for the month of June to coincide with the short story course she will teach at the Centre on the 25th and 26th of June. Tune in here every Wednesday to see what she has to say.

I was thinking lately about the novels I write, about themes and concerns that re-occur in them. What do they have in common, I wondered? I have one novel published, You (New Island, 2010), one novel-in-progess (my NIP) and a couple of failed attempts, which will live forever in that limbo where dead novels go. And here is what I realised as I pondered my obsessions as a novelist: all of the novels I have tried to complete have been about mad mothers. Well, maybe not so much mad mothers as unsuccessful mothers – women who are not very good at being mothers. And these mothers drink – they drink in public and they drink in secret. My own Ma doesn’t drink and I’m a half-bottle-of-wine-on-Friday-night kind of Mammy myself, so I’m not altogether sure where the obsession with drinking mothers comes from. And obviously that is not all that my books are about – they usually deal with the breakdown of love (separation/betrayal), and there are generally children involved.

Setting is also very important to me in my fiction. I am hugely affected by my environment – as are most people, I presume – and I like my setting to get under the skin of my characters and to be as important as the people it serves. You was set in my home place in County Dublin – I grew up across the Liffey from the Strawberry Beds. The river and the valley it runs through are crucial to that novel in terms of atmosphere and in terms of plot.

My NIP is set between Dublin and the Scottish Highlands. I worked in the Highlands for almost a year when I was younger and it has been a thrill to revisit it for the purposes of the novel. So far my visits have been imaginary and virtual; I have also been (excruciatingly) re-reading my diaries from that time. But in July I am going back there, to soak up a bit of the Scotland that I remember and to taste it anew. I feel like I couldn’t do the Scottish Highlands justice without a quick trip to make sure I am getting it right in my NIP. What better excuse for a few days away?

When I teach Creative Writing, I always urge the participants to be mindful of their fiction’s setting, both the place and the time. Characters, and their actions, have to be located in a physical reality, not in some grey nowhere. In our giddy rush to get the story down, we should never forget the importance of the setting and the atmosphere created by it. The setting, when well evoked, is like the glue that holds all the pieces together. The writer Nigel Watts has a better analogy for setting in fiction. He says: ‘The setting is like the flour in a cake: perhaps less compelling than the nuts and dried fruit, but if you forget to include flour in the recipe, you’ll have no cake.’

I like my reader to feel rooted in the story and by naming places and describing them with care, and by being succinct with detail, I think that is achievable. To that end, I keep a mini notebook on me at all times and I endlessly jot down what I observe around me. A lot of my writing ideas come to me on the edge of sleep, so I have made myself stick to the notepad beside the bed rule. It helps, particularly in the long haul of the novel, which is constantly on your mind, asking questions of you.

Jottings that have made it into my NIP include rain-flattened daffodils; the sight of hundreds of jellyfish on an otherwise empty beach; and a dead crow that hung from a wire between my two neighbour’s houses. It is funny how things present themselves just when you need them. My main character was going through a tough time and I wanted to conjure a foreboding atmosphere while showing that she was becoming slightly unhinged. I went for a walk with my baby daughter to get some clarity on the scene and I spotted the dead crow, lurid and menacing as it swung by one leg from the wire. It was the perfect detail to carry me through the scene.

So, if you want to write believable fiction, here are a few tips: be nosey and sensitive to the world around you; always write down your observations/thoughts/ideas as they occur to you; be specific: name things; use your senses when you write – readers love the sensuality of touch, tastes, smells etc.; gift yourself time to write; stick with it and be patient; read lots of good books; and, whatever you do, don’t forget to add the flour.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin and lives in Galway. She has published three collections of short fiction, including Nude (Salt, 2009) which was shortlisted for the 2010 Edge Hill Short Story Prize; three poetry collections – one in an anthology, one a pamphlet – and one novel, You (New Island, 2010). Nuala’s third full poetry collection The Juno Charm is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2011.

Blog: www.womenrulewriter.blogspot.com Website: www.nualanichonchuir.com.

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